Todd Putman and I met as part of a group that walked the last 110 kilometers of a spiritual pilgramage across Spain known as Camino de Santiago (or simply “the camino”). Suffice it to say that walking from town to town for miles every day in all conditions, and carrying everything you need for the entire trip on your back, breeds closeness and lots of time for talking, thinking, and more talking. So when it came time to put together a dinner around the theme of Where Are Our Food Heroes, I thought immediately of Todd who is both passionate about this subject and, as I learned on the Camino, a great conversationalist. He is also a veteran marketing executive who has worked at Coca Cola, Pinkberry, and Bolthouse Farms, where he was the architect of “Eat Brighter” a partnership between the White House and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, the Sesame Workshop, and the Produce Marketing Association created to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables, Todd is currently General Manager of the Garden Fresh Gourmet unit of Campbells. He brought an informed and creative spirit to our discussion of food heroes so I caught up with him briefly about this thoughts and reactions that evening and in the intervening months.

On why he was at the table:
I’m privileged to sit smack in the middle of changing the food system in the U.S and I’m connected to a ton of people doing the same thing. At Bolthouse, we used creative and impactful marketing to try and change the food system and I’m doing the same thing at Garden Fresh now, uniquely backed by a CEO and a quickly changing “big food” company.

On what really got him thinking differently that night:
The topic of gut health. Marrying that to some of the work we are doing around genome research got me thinking: Could there be a DNA designed food system for individuals that would address gut health and radically improve people’s lives??

On his inspiration following that dinner:
The dinners are not causation, they are propellant. They are shots that push conversations and solutions to move faster. Most people that attended the food heroes were already active problem solvers working on cool solutions (Karen Washington and Sam Kass to name just two). But these dinners are that sparks that I know will start even bigger fires. Again, I consider them propellant.

On another kind of inspiration (whether found on screen, on the page, or in real life) that recently moved him in an altogether different way:

The Revenant. The pure human power of personal will, passion, commitment is often underestimated and almost always amazing when trotted out in full view as it was in that film. (I will add here that Todd is too modest to mention a book that inspires him and that he is obviously passionate about: his own! Be More: Find Your Truth, Tell Your Story, and Get What You Want Out of Life is Todd’s book designed to empower people to accomplish their goals and realize their individual potential. While I am singing his praises you should also check out his great Tedx PerdueU talk.

On the best advice he ever got:
Take time to do nothing. Hear nothing. Just be.